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Hyperion Launches African American Children's Imprint
Diane Patrick -- 7/6/98
Jump at the Sun will "honor the uniqueness of being black"

Logo for the new imprint

Once upon a time, there were few books for young readers written by black authors or reflecting the black experience. Today, although the number of such titles has continued to grow, in some quarters, there still exists that industry cliche -- that if a book has a black author or black characters it should be published in February, during Black History Month.

In her days as a marketing director, Lisa Holton, now v-p and publisher of the Disney Children's Book Group, heard that cliche over and over in sales and marketing meetings -- where she found herself thinking, "But everyone in this room is white." Holton was also troubled by the common industry assumption that books by black authors, or which portray black life, were only for black readers.

At Hyperion, however, Holton found "a passionate and supportive group of people, editorial expertise, and a marketing team that 'got it'" -- the perfect ingredients, she said, for creating an imprint. Last week at ALA, Disney's Hyperion Books for Children officially launched Jump at the Sun, which celebrates the rich cultural experiences of the African American community.The imprint takes its name from the words of advice given by Lucy Potts Hurston to her daughter, the Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston: She urged young Zora to "jump at the sun" -- in other words, to aim high in life.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, the senior editor who will manage the imprint

Two years ago, Holton presented her idea for the imprint to Andrea Davis Pinkney, then an editor at Simon &Schuster Books for Young Readers. Pinkney, herself the author of 12 children's books, a former journalist (Essence, The New York Times) and mother of a two-year-old girl, joined Hyperion Books for Children as senior editor in 1997. Together with a team at Hyperion, Holton and Pinkney worked out the philosophy behind the imprint, which Pinkney will manage in her capacity as senior editor at Hyperion Books for Children.

"Our mission," Pinkney explained, "is to publish books celebrating the beauty of black culture: books that are for every child's pleasure, books that go beyond the niche of black publishing."

Marisol, a YA novel, is on
the fall list

The six titles on the fall 1998 launch list reflect the range of genres that the imprint will cover. There are picture books (Max, a pop-up book, and Halala Means Welcome: A Book of Zulu Words, both by Ken Wilson-Max, and Angels by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist), novels (Marisol and Magdalena: The Sound of Our Sisterhood by Veronica Chambers and The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake), and even an inspirational collection for all ages (Gingersnaps: Daily Affirmations for African American Children and Families by Anita Alexander and Susan Payne). Nine titles are tentatively planned for 1999.

Future Jump at the Sun lists will include books by such well-known authors as Toni Morrison and bell hooks, who have both written their first picture books ever for the imprint; entertainers, such as Della Reese; and Caldecott Honor illustrators Brian Pinkney (who is Andrea's husband) and Chris Raschka.

A Team Effort

While it is an imprint, Holton noted, Jump at the Sun is an integrated part of Hyperion. Thus, although there will be some independent publicity and marketing, sales and marketing will be done by the Hyperion Books for Children staff, and all the editors are free to acquire for it.

Holton added that the marketing team will take advantage of strategies gleaned from those black authors who have shown the industry alternative methods of selling and marketing to a black readership.

Max is one of the new imprint's fall pop-up books

"To the credit of some African American writers like Terry McMillan," she noted, the industry learned that "(a), there are different outlets such as churches and community organizations, and (b), there is just as much interest from white readers as black readers."
No doubt the marketing team will also learn a thing or two from the authors of Gingersnaps, who are co-owners of Shades of Sienna, a children's bookstore in Oakland, Calif.

Pinkney got into children's publishing, she said, "because I could see, both as an author and as a mom, that there were so many books that needed to be in the world -- but I couldn't do all of them!" Through Jump at the Sun, now Pinkney can aim for just that.
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